Of Pets and People

Recently, the City of San Francisco, California considered allowing a Pet Cemetery to open within city limits. Many people today are memorializing their beloved pets in various ways, including traditional burials with grave markers, cremations with scattering or placing the cremated remains in an urn at home.

A Pet Cemetery seems like a very kind and decent thing to have, to lay to rest, our furry companions. The irony is that the City of San Francisco has only one cemetery (a Veterans cemetery) within its limits. You see cemeteries (for human beings) are illegal, banned from the City of San Francisco.

In 1900 San Francisco passed an ordinance outlawing the construction of any more cemeteries. Then, in 1912, evicted all cemeteries (and inhabitants), from the city limits to Colma, California. As of the year 2000, Colma has 1,191 living residents and 1.5 million at rest. Most of the people buried in Colma, never lived there. They came from San Francisco where the only places to be memorialized are the Veteran’s Cemetery and a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

In reality most of us deny death as much as San Franciscan’s. Our pets can’t abruptly end a conversation about their mortality by simply saying, “just bury me in a pine box”, or the New Dog, “just cremate me and have a party”. No, the pet’s disposition and service (or lack of) is dictated by the living. Does the pet ever really get the service it wants. Sounds like that old adage, “the funeral’s for the living”.

Some funeral homes are offering many different services for pets. From picking up the deceased pet from the home and delivering to the funeral home, pet cemetery or pet crematory. Public visitations have been held at funeral homes. The Crematory service we use has two different locations. One location has a separate cremation unit for pets only. The cremation containers (the container that hold the deceased) for pets have more eye appeal than the ones used for people. Many people question the cost of funerals for their loved ones but never question the cost for their pets.

My neighbor’s two dogs died this winter. Both were about 18 years old. Ruby (the dog he raised from a pup) was euthanized and died in his arms. Ruby was buried on the property that she roamed her whole life and had a funeral service.

My neighbor sometimes talks to me about what he wants done on the event of his death. I always tell him, as I tell everybody, what happens to you when you’re dead is none of your business. You won’t care, complain, or complement what your loved ones do with your body or say about you at your funeral, if you have one. My neighbor knew what to do with his beloved dogs. He did what he felt he needed to do. Not just what he wanted to do, but what he needed to do. How lucky this pet owner was that his dogs didn’t pre-plan their funeral or speak in human terms. For my neighbor, he makes plans and ponders the options. I wonder what his family needs and do they know what they need. This is not a retail transaction, it is not about what the dead want; it is a time to fulfill the needs of the living. Regardless of whether it is a pet, son, daughter, mother, or father who has died, events of death mark times, places, and moments in our lives that will never be forgotten. They will be cherished by the living and unappreciated by the dead.

Occasionally in the newspapers there are lengthy obituaries listing family members, college degrees, hobbies, fraternal organizations, and special interests. They mention how the person who died was deeply loved by his family and many friends. How he was a mentor to many and gave endlessly to help others. A friend to all. Then the obituary reads that his wishes were to have no services, but, you can send a check to your favorite charity. It sounds like a wedding where, to keep things simple, you just send a gift. Maybe we should make all social occasions as convenient as sending an e-mail. What can show we expended as little effort as possible than sending an e-mail condolence. “Sorry your Mom died”. That says it all and shows we care, doesn’t it? I mean, Mom never wanted us to fuss over her. That’s what she said!

The emergence of Pet Services will be very interesting culturally and challenge many who may have more elaborate funerals for their pets than they do for their own family members. Maybe if we discuss what type of funerals we will have for our pets, we will come to a better understanding of what we need when our family members die.


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